"My name is Rye, and I'm a homosexual. And I am excited to play Margaret Cho." I kept my introduction short and sweet because we had already spent a good fifteen minutes going through everybody else's names, theatre credentials, expectations, and what-have-yous. There were two more actors to follow and my hands were already shaking from too much excitement on reading the material through.
We were at Spooky, HK Players' rehearsal space, which was situated in far-flung Diamond Hill. Sitting around the white conference table (that, after two rehearsals, we've learned to love more as a dining-slash-drinking-slash-babbling table) was a group of nine people from different training backgrounds, agendas, and alcoholic preferences. And ethnicities. How apropos. There were BritishTeri (Ms. Producer), Chinese Eric (Director, cast member) and Canadian Stephen (Assistant Director, cast member), all of whom, I have worked with in the past but only to a very limited extent; there was Korean Keon (cast member), who played Lizardman opposite La Chiquitta playing Veronica in He Died With a Felafel In His Hands; there was Bangladeshi Shafin, who was among the huge cast of Oliver that I choreographed two-plus years ago; and there were Chinese Kathy (cast member), American Lester (cast member), and Chinese-American Alan (cast member). The play was written by David Henry Hwang, Tony Award winner for M. Butterfly, and tackles issues of racism, yadda yadda yadda.... None of those mattered to me at that time. I was in a play portraying thirteen different characters. Thirteen! It was my chance to be onstage as Rye, the actor. Not Rye, the dancer. Not La Chiquitta.
As the months progressed, the pressure to memorise our lines verbatim, to brush up on the plethora of American (and Chinese and Russian, if you're lucky) accents, to commit silhouettes and stances to muscle memory, and to bring something fresh to our scenes every rehearsal grew more intense, exhilarating, and more importantly, exciting. Outside the rehearsal hall, we became less guilty about our junk food consumption, as our emptied wine bottles amassed and our banter and adult jokes got more crude. We explored characters, fine tuned scenes, ran lines, analyzed choices, created back stories, looked for motivations, and discovered subtexts. We did all these while allowing ourselves to explore, analyze and discover ourselves on a more personal level. And while being fed nonstop by Jenny.
Then along came Iris, who was supposed to just sit in at one of the rehearsals for her M.A. thesis, but ended up being our most hardworking, nurturing, meticulous script Nazi and Stage Manager.
Later on, Albert joined in to document us in the most flattering ways possible through his camera. And then Katy and Mae whose cackles gave us the energy that we needed to keep us going in our first few run-throughs, where we struggled to develop our stamina for the physically demanding, vocally taxing and emotionally draining piece of work that we dedicated ourselves to. And then Van made his appearance to (I think) work on the Chinese surtitles, and also to start with his lights design.
Fast forward to bump-in. Monday. Crew started working at 9 in the morning, while the cast was called at 6. Tech rehearsal started at 8, and by the time we had to vacate the theatre, at 11pm, we had only gone through the first act. And then to K1, a cafe on Queen's Road that eventually became our post-show headquarters, for notes. We were promised that tech would be ready for the dress rehearsal on Tuesday. No one complained. No one gave attitude. No one showed any signs of panic. Another testament to the laudable camaraderie with shared within the team, and to the faith that we had for the production. There were no big egos and primadonnas to deal with.
Dress rehearsal, Tuesday. Leena came in to make everyone beautiful. She was alone. No assistants, no makeup students taking instructions from her. She was, on her own, the makeup AND costume department. Tech elements were in place, as promised, and the performances were ok. Not brilliant, but not lackluster either. But no one stressed about it. Bad run, good opening-- always a very calming mantra. We had a show, that we were sure of. And how proud we all were of the show.
Opening night arrived and happened so fast, we hardly felt the 2 hours and something go by. And after four more shows, a few line booboos, minor Urbtix issues, some standing ovations, 50 pieces of cheese sticks, makeup touch-ups, entrances & exits, sushis, tripping in the dark, sitting in other actors' chairs, costume add-ons, hefty laughters, generous applause, drinks, sirloin steaks, several 15-minute sessions on the massage chair, warm-ups, Dong music, monologues, Shamone's, and copious amounts of compliments and support, our run ended on Saturday night.
I went into this production wanting to prove to myself (and, I'm not gonna lie, also to others) that there is more to Rye than people give me credit for. I was able to achieve that. My Rodney Hatamiya scene was meant to be funny. I gave them hilarious. And people remember that. Eight rehearsals before opening, Eric decided to give me one of the most tense and dramatic moments of the play. Without having to even think about it, I accepted the offer. I did my homework, listened to directions, and researched on Wen Ho Lee. I gave my all and did it with conviction every single time, and it paid off. The audience got the message and felt for Wen Ho. I gave Wen Ho Lee justice. Modesty aside, I know I did. I gave my non-speaking, 15-second Margaret Cho portrayal as much panache and flair as I did all my other 12 characters. There are no small roles, they say. Only small actors. I wasn't gonna labelled a small actor after this show. I went into this production wanting to prove to myself and to others that there is more to Rye than people give me credit for. I earned a lot more than that. New friends, a renewed respect from peers, a mention in a review to add to my portfolio, a better understanding of myself, and a revitalised love for my craft.
I feel it is only fitting to thank the people who have made this experience a memorable, worthwhile and blog-worthy one--
Teri, Eric & Stephen for casting me without thinking that I might be a bratty diva that people will find difficult to work with. Thank you for separating Rye from Chiquitta.
Eric, for being a collaborative director and for giving us space to find and discover our motivations and objectives on our own. And for knowing perfectly when to bring out the iron fist, and remain unoffensive.
Stephen, for painstakingly guiding me through my homework; for the drinks and the long drinking sessions; for Uta Hagen, Goodfellas, Glengary Glen Ross, and The Aristocrats.
Teri, for being a very warm, nurturing and accommodating producer, and for all the hardwork she put in from the get go.
Iris, for being an inspiringly efficient stage manager, who would go out of her way just so we, the actors, could focus on our performance; for always being one-- maybe even two-- steps ahead; and for being so supportive to every single person involved in this production.
Leena, for finally deciding, after four years, to let me experience her makeup magic; and for the jacket.
Van, for lighting us and for being patient enough to adjust his designs to meet our requests.
Katy, for being so good at what she does; for her giggles that never failed to invigourate my Rodney scenes; and for the comforting tete-a-tete at the cast party.
Mae, for being our all-purpose stage crew; and for her light and vibrant personality that never failed to brighten up our days.
Jenny, for making it her responsibility that we were always well-fed, and that we have alcohol to consume after rehearsals.
Albert, for documenting us and for making sure we were documented properly and beautifully.
Eric, Keon, Alan, Shafin, Kathy, Stephen and Lester, for being such great people to share the stage with, and for being even greater friends to share drinks, junk food, and cab rides with. For the neverending conversations-- both trivial and profound-- that just made every second of the process a fun and at the same time a learning experience. For always striving to give their 100% while also trying to bring out the best in each other. For being an ensemble to the truest sense of the word.
Remi, Mai, T & Enan, for their undying support and patience when I couldn't be there to sit with them, or eat with them, or even to reply to their text messages because I was too busy indulging my performer-self.
The friends who came and gave their generous support, especially James, Evan, Tony, Candice, Lisa, Kayleigh, Claire, Bono, Jeff, Kitty, Shirley, Sara, Paul, Robin, Vince & Wendy, Carly, Jodi. Sorry I can't name you all, but know that all your kind words (especially those who came to the cast party) have made a huge impact on me.
Steve, for sending overseas good show wishes.
Wendy, for the very special message. I shall keep that forever and pull it out whenever I feel the slightest doubt about my talent.
Meaghan, for the mention in your review.
The audience members that we don't know personally but who would come up to us randomly to share their wonderful feedback. I hope someday, somehow, you all will stumble upon this post so that you may know how much we value your opinions.
David Henry Hwang, for giving us something to say again.
And lastly, Oca, for always watching over me.
The stage lights died down as we took our final exit. The applause intensified, and we heaved a collective sigh as soon as we went past the black panels that separated our standby area from the theatre's mini-lobby. It was a sigh of fulfillment. Of relief. Of sadness that it's all over. Of gratitude to the Invisible Guiding Force.
We went for broke. And we did it tremendously well to proudly say that We. Rocked. It.